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The CBR Gambit: Fear, Doubt, and Uncertainty

The CBR Gambit: Fear, Doubt, and Uncertainty

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Published by Reid Kirby
An article I wrote for the US Army Chemical Review on the intent to use CBR more for its fear, doubt, and uncertainty than casualty effects (i.e., disruption).
An article I wrote for the US Army Chemical Review on the intent to use CBR more for its fear, doubt, and uncertainty than casualty effects (i.e., disruption).

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Published by: Reid Kirby on Nov 21, 2010
Copyright:Public Domain


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Army Chemical Review 16 
In chess, the gambit is a tactic that breaks fromtraditional wisdom to mislead an opponent into making afatal mistake. In traditional military terms, it is often thoughtof as feint, but gambit also applies to a wider use inwarfare. Chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR)warfare is used primarily to neutralize a force through itscasualty effect. It can also deny a force utility to terrain,facilities, and equipment through its persistence. And thereis also a third use in which CBR warfare disruptsoperations
by harassing and prompting a force into adisproportionate protective posture or action.Today, we are all familiar with one form of the CBRgambit
the anthrax hoax. These provocations precipitatea costly disruption of the day-to-day lives of victims(usually chosen at random). Fortunately, since the incidentslack coordination between parties, such hoaxes can bediscounted as mere criminal mischief. However,throughout the history of CBR, the gambit had a morepractical concept. This article explores several historicalscenarios and the theoretical nature of the CBR gambitso that it may be recognized and its intent negated.
World War I
At the battle of Loos, the British placed smokecandles between chlorine cylinder emplacements andreleased smoke to fill the time gaps between gas waves.The 35- to 40-minute continuous smoke wave from theBritish trenches was a psychological tactic intended togive the Germans the impression that a large attack hadoccurred. Even though the black-green smoke was easilyidentified by the Germans as not being gas, anxiety wasapparent, as was confusion to the extent of the attack.
One of the most deliberate gambits during World War Iwas the use of “camouflage gas.” Amos Fries noted thatsuch a tactic was intended to mask the presence of acasualty agent, preventing identification or simulating apresence when none was used.
Though Fries notes thatthe use of camouflage gas was rarely successful inprojector attacks, Robert MacMullen, First Gas Regiment,commented on its use as “skunk gas” in defeating machinegun positions for the infantry.
In this role, a 4-inch Stokesmortar fired a round of the foul-smelling formyl compound.While German machine guns were temporarily silencedas soldiers donned their masks, the infantry moved in forthe kill. The Germans also understood the CBR gambit. Itwas common practice to follow each artillery barrage witha few chemical rounds in an attempt to create disruption.Additionally, the munition expenditures commonly usedby Germany have often been noted as too low for anypronounced casualty effect, with the intent seemingly benton disruption.
By Mr. Reid Kirby
JanuaryJune 20051
World War II
During the September 1939 German invasion of Poland, German engineers encountered entanglements atthe bridges over the Wisloka River near Jaslo in Galicia.When they attempted to remove the barricade, explosionssprayed liquid from several cans. Fourteen menimmediately succumbed to poisoning, and several died inthe days following the incident. Except for the casualties,the experience went almost unnoticed. It was laterdiscovered that the cans were Polish chemical defensedevices filled with a standard mixture containing a fairproportion of mustard gas. Lieutenant General HermanOchsner, the German Chief of Chemical, discerned theaction as a desperate attempt by local forces to disruptthe German advance.
The Cold War
The 1950 Stevenson Report, which evaluated the useof CBR, noted that the silent and persistent nature of radiological warfare meant that people would have toreasonably wonder if they were subjected to hiddenradiological hazards anytime an enemy plane passed overan area. It would therefore be prudent that such areaswould have to be surveyed before use. It was alsorecognized that radiological warfare as a form of harassment was more likely than incidents resulting inmass casualties.
At the time, similar sentiments wereexpressed regarding biological warfare
would thepsychological impact outweigh the casualty effect?
Disruption and Harassment
As is the role of the gambit in a game of chess, theCBR gambit is an attempt to prompt a foe to expend hisresources when not needed, thus creating disruption anddegraded performance throughout the enemy force. Theuser of the CBR gambit exploits the fear, doubt, anduncertainty of his opponent by provoking a protectiveresponse. After World War I, it was estimated that themere act of having to don a protective mask reduced asoldier’s fighting capability by as much as 25 percent. Insome field conditions, having to assume mission-orientedprotective posture 4 (MOPP4) can reduce a soldier’scapability without actual exposure to CBR.
Relation to Deception
The CBR gambit has similarities to the various typesof Soviet deception. Soviet deception tactics, known as
, are a collection of improvisational techniques,such as soldiers carrying flashlights to look like truck movement or placing camp stoves under metal plates tolook like tank infrared signatures. In reality, thesetechniques exploit an enemy’s intelligence cycle, creatinguncertainty during the time lag between the detection,interpretation, and reaction stages.
Maskirovka requiresstrategic, operational, and tactical synergy to be believableand influence enemy decision making. Likewise, the CBRgambit falls apart when it lacks strategic, operational, andtactical continuity.Like maskirovka, the successful use of the CBRgambit depends on a force’s knowledge of the enemy’sdetection assets and response doctrine. Through WorldWar II, the leading agent detection method was a soldier’ssense of smell, so a simulant for a CBR gambit neededonly to smell like the real thing (see
Figure 1
). Today, agambit with a simulant of a V agent is only useful if it canbe detected by enzyme tickets, ion mobilization, orelectrochemical reaction.
Figure 1. Through World War II, soldiers relied ontheir sense of smell to detect agents.
Army Chemical Review 18 
Understanding Uncertainty
Assume that you have a bag with two coins in it. Onecoin represents an actual CBR attack, with heads being just detection and tails being detection with casualties.The other coin has two heads, with both sides representingdetection. How many times would you have to toss thesecond coin before realizing that the coin had two heads?In 1948, Claude Shannon developed the InformationTheory from his work with mathematical probabilities andstatistics.
In his pivotal work, Shannon devised a theoremto quantify uncertainty by weighing the average of probabilities. By quantifying the uncertainty of a randomvariable, it is possible to indicate the average number of yes or no questions that must be asked to specify thevalue of that variable. It should be noted that the financialindustry has a slightly different concept of uncertainty,seeing investments as having both risk (measurableprobable outcomes) and uncertainty (unexpected change).For example, assume that a military commandercan expect
based on experience, field trials, historic study,and knowledge of force capabilities and terrain
his forcesto move at an average rate of 20 kilometers per hour.The expected probability range would be 15 to 30kilometers per hour. But when CBR is introduced, thepremise for the expected rate of movement changes. Thiscreates a new range of expectation. This event iscomparable to the financial industry’sconcept of uncertainty. At first, withoutexperience, the commander may makethe assumption that the average rate of advance will be 10 kilometers per hour,with a range of 0 to 30. There isinsufficient information to be morecertain. As he becomes familiar with theCBR environment, the degree of uncertainty changes and he becomesconfident that his forces will advance atan average rate of 15 kilometers per hour,with a range of 10 to 25. Uncertainty isdynamic and changes as informationevolves (see
Figure 2
).Another aspect of uncertainty isrelated to the distance between a personand the source of information. Forexample, when soldiers use a particulardetection asset to detect the presenceof a nerve agent, they are fairly certainthat a positive test indicates the presence of the agent.As users of the technology, they believe what they aretaught with little doubt. However, people familiar with thetechnology, design, and testing of the detection asset realizethat there can be false positives and defective units, sotheir level of uncertainty is appreciably higher. On theopposite side of the spectrum are those who are not trainedto detect nerve agents or are not familiar with the agent’seffects. They too have a high degree of uncertainty thatnerve agent was detected
they simply don’t have enoughunderstanding to believe the results one way or another. Thecertainty of soldiers trained on the detection asset is a pheno-menon known as the “certainty trough” (see
Figure 3
Risk Perception
How safe is safe? The CBR gambit also exploitsrisk perception. During the late 1970s, the Warsaw Pactaddressed CBR exposure criteria based on an expectedtwo-week survival time for soldiers in combat. The belief was that soldiers would not live longer than two weeks inmodern combat, so the economic approach to protectionwas to secure full capability for up to two weeks. In theory,this meant that the Warsaw Pact forces could easilymaneuver through areas that the North Atlantic TreatyOrganization (NATO) forces would hastily evacuate. Thedifference in risk perception provided an edge to WarsawPact forces…for at least two weeks.
Movement - kilometers per hour
CBR experienced ConventionalCBR surprisal
   P  r  o   b  a   b   i   l   i   t  y
5 10 15 20 25 30
Figure 2. The changing degree of uncertainty in the CBR environ-ment

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